Welcome to Part 3 the final portion of the ‘Is Your Homestead Prepared for an Emergency?’ series. Part 3’s topics include Electricity and Gas, Weather Emergencies, and Drills to Practice. I’m sure there are other topics that I’ve missed, and I may add additional ones in the future, but I know for me if I can take care of everything from this entire series I will be doing fabulous and be in a much better position should disaster strike. So, let’s get started!
Prep #6: Electricity and Gas
Do you have a generator or a battery backup system? If your generator uses gasoline like most typical models we’re familiar with, do you have enough stored gas? Stored gas not only runs the generator it also runs your cars. Maybe you’ll need a ‘propane pig’, one of the large hot dog looking tanks somewhere to help keep a propane generator going. If you don’t have one yet, consider a natural gas fired generator if this service is available to your area from a local utility. Natural gas lines are usually the last thing to go down during outages. A natural gas generator, though more expensive, can help keep your whole home functioning normally.
Maybe you’re not ready to go out and buy a generator today, and maybe you don’t need to. Because most of us have at least one or a few already- they’re sitting in the driveway or garage. Did you know your vehicle makes a great generator in a pinch with a simply device that costs $100 or less? Using an inverter clipped to its battery, you can turn the DC battery power into usable AC power for your home- just run some extension cords inside and start running your fridge and charging your devices. You won’t be able to run everything, but you can keep your food cold and stay in communication with your vehicle idling outside. Consider all of your homestead’s power NEEDS (and maybe some wants if there’s room) when making this decision. A good Whistler 1600w DC-to-AC inverter costs about $100 on Amazon. Use a Kill-A-Watt device that costs about $20 on there first to test and tally some appliances, laptops, lights, etc. to get an idea of your consumption requirements. By the way, a standard hair dryer uses 1875w…
Check out the great in-depth tutorials from energy guru Steven Harris with everything on how to make generators, inverters, and battery banks work for your homestead properly and safely!
Back to gasoline. If there is a gas shortage, it is much nicer to be able to pull gasoline from your own storage at home and wait calmly for supply lines to restore, rather than fighting the crowds waiting hours in line just to get a few rationed gallons. Don’t you think? After Hurricane Harvey, the Dallas/Ft. Worth area had a run on gas- it wasn’t even a real shortage, just a panic buying frenzy. This resulted in shortages anyway and many were left scrambling to put gas in their cars just to get to work. As we saw, simple frenzies that go viral on social media can impact this issue just as much too.
It is very simple to just fill an extra 5-gallon gas can each month for one year, then cycle through them over the next year can-by-can, month-by-month, by using and refilling them. Dump the ‘March’ gas can into your empty tank in March, fill it back up at the pump and the rest of your car’s tank, then return the can to storage. You’ll do the same in April, etc. Those military-style 5-gallon ‘jerry cans’ are best, but most red plastic 5-gallon cans well for this kind of thing too. Gas stores just fine for 1 year, especially (and even longer) if you add a treatment for it like Sta-Bil. This allows a relatively painless way to acquire and store an extra 60 gallons of gas over the course of one year for minimal cost, or you can accelerate that build-up sooner if you can. It’s also a great idea to keep your car’s tank topped off and never let it get down to empty. I know I am super guilty of getting distracted and letting that gauge point to ‘E’. It’s a terrible habit of mine. We can’t really be prepared for an emergency if we’re trying to evacuate or get to work, and frantically hunting for a gas station. Always keep enough in your tank to get home, whatever that may be for you.
Prep #7: Weather Emergency
You are probably aware of what typical weather disasters can occur in your area. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes being among the more popular. Earthquakes are a little harder to prepare for other than having furniture attached to the walls if you live in an earthquake prone zone.
If a hurricane is imminent, do you have plans ready for what you would do if you need to evacuate? Their general paths are broadcasted days in advance, so these potential disasters provide the widest timeframes for evacuations, boarding up, and last-minute ‘crunch time’ preparing. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can even get most stuff you still need shipped to you within 2 days or less before the storm hits. Saving three different hotels and their numbers as contacts ahead of time in your phone that are out of the path of the storm can save you some grief and time once they are filling up fast. Your reservation is already made by the time others are thinking about trying to find a room somewhere else. Where are these hotels for you? And will they take your pets? Also plan a fallback with relatives nearby if possible, including those pets.
For homesteaders, tornadoes aren’t so much an evacuation scenario ahead of the storm as they could be after the fact- the difference in these is the timing. If you are hunkering down at home, is everyone in the family aware of the best place to be during a tornado? Interior rooms without windows are usually the safest, unless you have a basement. If you have an underground tornado shelter, do you have a protocol for when you will go down to the shelter and who will be responsible for getting which kids to the shelter? These are typically installed and located somewhere outside, so it’s a stressful decision to basically start grabbing kids and running outside into the storm for better safety! Ask me how I know!
We discovered that this task is more challenging than we ever imagined when we had a kid freak out from the thunder en-route to the shelter and run back into the house during one storm. We ended up chasing him and carrying him to the shelter, but if time is of the essence you don’t want to be chasing a little kid and trying to get into a shelter all ‘Wizard of Oz’ style! It’s a good idea to also stock your shelter ahead of time, as room permits obviously, with folding chairs or a bench, games for the kids and books. We had toys and games, but I will say that roly-poly bugs on the floor were what entertained them the most. Yay, nature!
Flashlights and batteries are handy, and definitely don’t underestimate the utility of a portable toilet. A simple 5-gallon bucket with a Luggable Loo seat snapped on, toilet paper, and sanitary bags can make life immeasurably better. Nothing says fun like a preschooler who is scared of confined spaces and has to poop! The fight-or-flight response might shut down the GI and urinary tracts for a little while, but if you are holed up for long enough, the fear factor may dissipate and somebody’s going to have to pee… Fortunately, most evacuations to your shelter are 30 minutes or less, but in a wild tornado break-out, you might need to make most of a fun afternoon with it.
Consider a blanket or two as well so you can make a shield if said preschooler or adult would prefer a “bathroom” to go in. Command strips or other device placed on the ceiling so you can hang a shower curtain to pull around for privacy is worth it. Maybe it’s a little over the top, but hey, if I’m stuck in a tiny space with multiple kids who are equal parts scared and bored and I’m worrying about the house and livestock, I definitely don’t want to worry about peeing as well! Don’t forget some hand sanitizer in the shelter, too. You can store all of these supplies in a trash can with a lid that keeps items safe until you need them.
Another question to consider is are you going to try and take pets into the shelter with you? Consider whether you would try to load animals into carriers to take with you to the shelter in advance of the worst of the weather. Do you know where the dog leash is? Can you find the cat? Or are the odds good enough that they’re going to hide in a known spot that is safe enough?
Livestock are basically in God’s hands here, but one fallen tree could take out a portion of fence. The next thing you know cows, goats, alpacas, horses or whatever livestock you have are wandering around outside of your property! Do you have a plan for livestock if the fences go down? Will your animals ‘come’ to a feed bucket? Do you have a way to repair broken fencing or corral the livestock in makeshift pens while you repair them? Do you have enough halters and leads for all animals that will use them?
Normal Seasonal Weather
Don’t forget seasonally normal heat extremes, ice/snow storms, or just crazy cold weather when considering all weather events. For many people, these are more likely to happen than the other weather scenarios above. Do you have sufficient shelter for all pets and livestock? Do you need supplemental cooling or heating, and do you know how to safely provide it and how often? The last thing you need is an animal in heat exhaustion or a fire in the barn from heating gone wrong. Do any of your livestock need spraying down with water to keep cool or coats to keep warm? Do you have enough hay or feed if you were iced in for a month? Do you have heated water buckets or methods to keep chicken waterers from freezing? And in periods of days and weeks of wet weather in any season, do your animals have a higher area ‘dry lot’ or dry place they can always retreat to to prevent foot rot?
It definitely adds time to the routine and complicates it if you work away from the homestead and you are having to break ice in water troughs multiple times a day. Those that live up North deal with these things all the time, but the short-burst cold snaps in warmer areas like Texas can have a much bigger impact as we don’t deal with it as frequently and it isn’t on our daily radar.
Prep #8: Fire
Do you have extinguishers on all floors of the house? Have you ever read the directions on how to use one or tried it out? It’s not something that in the heat of the moment you want to be perusing through the instructions on how to make it work. Do you also have these in the barn and out buildings? Wasn’t it even a cow that started the Great Chicago Fire?
Fires can start anywhere and sometimes bad things do happen. Are your outbuildings covered under your insurance plan? This also goes back to the evacuation scenarios from Part 2. You need to consider how you would act if a neighboring property has a fire that is encroaching on your property, or even more likely, a wildfire entering your area or that just popped up across the street, upwind. Having long hoses staged and ready to go to douse manageable flames or pre-soak your perimeter fence is a smart decision, and you probably have these lying around your home, garden and pool already.
Back to insurance, think about the most important physical assets in your home and make sure they’re accounted for in your policy’s coverage. Next, ‘what you would grab first’? The family photo album has long been the go-to item, and it may still be. But think Bug-Out Bags, laptops, hard drives with your data backed up, those pet carriers, important documents in that safe upstairs (how fireproof is it really? is it small enough to take with you?). What can you grab if you had to evacuate your homestead that would help mitigate ‘starting over’ if you lost it all? Having an insurance check is a relief, but losing those other things may be paralyzing to you and your family. Make a list of these for the next and final item.
Prep #9: Practice Drills
Most of us probably remember fire drills from school and the fireman talking to you about doing drills at home, but have you done any lately with your kids? Do you have ladders to use from upstairs windows if you have a multi-story home? The practice makes it less freaky for kids and decreases the panic factor slightly since they have at least been through the motions. Ladders and their use out of windows may be more knowledge than you can or want to impart to little kids, so have a plan with other adults about where these will be kept and who is in charge of getting kids out. Everyone should also know the rally points where everyone should meet so you know everyone is out of the house and safe.
Does everyone remember the alarm code and password? Is this discussed regularly? I’m super guilty of forgetting the passcodes and need frequent quizzing and drills because it is not something that I normally think about. And I have a million other things going on in my mind, so if I didn’t make up the password, and sometimes even if I do, it just doesn’t stick without repetition.
Have you ever weathered just a regular storm in your tornado shelter? We realized during what has fortunately been our one and only storm shelter experience last year that certain areas of it leaked and needed repair. We also realized more seating would be nice especially if any of the neighbors need to come over. Storm Shelter Party!!!!
If you would have to evacuate animals, practice occasionally haltering and wrangling them as well as designing alleyways or paddocks and methods to make this easier. If the animals know what to do and consider it normal then life is easier whether we are talking about dogs and cats or cattle and goats.
With the exception of maybe extra livestock most of these ideas apply whether you are in an apartment or living on a farm in the country. And if reading this list made you think “Oh crap, I’m soooo not ready for an emergency!” That’s ok. As I was writing, I realized areas that we need to work on to have us better prepared for an emergency too. Nobody has it all together, but we can identify those gaps and work to fill them in over time as soon as we’re able. The important thing is to take little bites at a time and create a plan so you can move toward better self-sufficiency. When your homestead and family are prepared for an emergency you find that you don’t worry as much and instead can spend more time enjoying life!